Exactly What I Use to Keep My Oily, Breakout-Prone Skin Hydrated In Winter


There’s a lot to love about winter. Hot coffee. Cashmere sweaters. Woolly socks.

But it also presents some issues when it comes to skin.

Cold temperatures, searing showers, heaters blasting and dry air can wreak havoc on all skin types, but when you factor in breakouts, things get even more complicated

I would know, because I fit the brief.

During the summer months, I’m just plain shiny. Classic oily skin type right here. But for me, winter manifests itself as pimples, tightness, pronounced lines and flaking.

You'd think the answer would be to reach for moisturising products, but when you're prone to pimples, there’s a fine line between nourishing my skin and causing congestion.

Thankfully, I've been navigating this conundrum for many winters now, and over time, I've honed in on a routine of products that's just right. Think skin care that's nourishing and hydrating, but not too heavy.

So, here is my guide to winter skincare for acne-prone complexions. Keep scrolling for the hot tips.

What Happens to Skin in Winter?

I think the main point to touch on here is dehydration, and the difference between dry skin and dehydrated skin. Because in our quest for winter cosiness, we often end up dehydrating our poor skin barriers.

Dry skin is a skin type that lacks oil. An overproduction of oil is one of the key contributing factors in pimple formation, so it's uncommon (but not impossible) for those with blemish-prone skin to have a dry skin type.

Dehydration on the other hand is when the skin lacks water. It's a temporary skin condition, and super common during winter. It's also common (and normal) for skin to be both oily and dehydrated at once. Fun! 

That’s why you can experience that tight/itchy/stretched/flaky feeling and still get breakouts, especially during winter when it’s dry AF outside.

You can learn more about dehydrated skin in this episode of the Skincare School podcast below.

Winter Skincare Tips for Acne-Prone Skin.

Here are some of my best winter skincare tips if you're prone to blemishes:

  • I love applying serums rich in glycerin and hyaluronic acid (two humectant or water-loving ingredients) onto slightly damp skin to really lock in moisture.

  • The oils I’ve found to be effective, without breaking me out, include marula, jojoba, argan, sea buckthorn, sunflower and grapeseed oils, plus squalane. Find a moisturiser or face oil with some of the above in it and use it after your hydrating serum.

  • Properly cleansing at night is still crucial in winter, as remnants of sunscreen, creams and oils could cause breakouts if left on all night. I always double cleanse with a muslin or soft face cloth.

  • As for active spots, I like to treat them overnight with a hydrocolloid bandage or pimple patch. That way, I can still nourish the rest of my face while keeping the spot clean, moist and protected.

My Winter Skincare Routine.

Now, onto what to look for in winter skin care (and what to avoid).

The answer is pretty personal and will depend on your unique skin, but what I’ve found most effective is using hydrating products followed by soothing, nourishing creams or oils that will prevent water loss, but won’t clog up pores.

On that note, here are some of the winter skincare products I have on rotation at the moment that don't break me out.

1. Cosmedix Purity Solution Nourishing Deep Cleansing Oil.

Cosmedix Purity Solution Nourishing Deep Cleansing OilCosmedix Purity Solution Nourishing Deep Cleansing Oil

What: Cosmedix Purity Solution Deep Cleansing Oil

Cosmedix Purity Solution Nourishing Deep Cleansing Oil is a gentle cleansing oil that will break down dirt, sebum, makeup and sunscreen, without stripping the skin. 

Why I love it:

I use predominantly physical sunscreen, so double-cleansing at night is essential (zinc oxide is thick and sticky, and a half-arsed cleanse just won’t cut the mustard).

This oil formula is powerful but soothing, and will remove everything without tightness or discomfort. I like using it with a muslin cloth and following up with a simple, non-foaming gel.

2. Avène Thermal Spring Water.

Avène Thermal Spring WaterAvène Thermal Spring Water

What: Avène Thermal Spring Water

Avène Thermal Spring Water is a simple water mist you can use as part of your skincare routine, or to set/refresh makeup. 

Why I love it:

This really is a workhorse product in my routine. I find a spritz of this is one of the easiest ways to give my complexion a plump, hydrated feeling (especially in winter).

It’s also soothing, and won’t irritate pimples like other heavily-scented mists.  

3. Bioderma Cicabio Crème.

What: Bioderma Cicabio Crème

Bioderma Cicabio Crème is a gentle barrier cream designed for compromised, irritated or damaged skin. 

Why I love it:

When my face is really irritated (i.e. on super windy days, or in central heating) I think the best thing to do is gently cleanse, and use a comforting moisturiser that won’t clog up pores.

The Bioderma Cicabio Crème is magic because it’s chock-full of zinc, one of the best pimple-soothers in my opinion. It’s also fragrance-free, non-comedogenic, and will prevent water loss. 

4. The Ordinary 100% Cold-Pressed Virgin Marula Oil.

The Ordinary 100% Cold-Pressed Virgin Marula OilThe Ordinary 100% Cold-Pressed Virgin Marula Oil

What: The Ordinary 100% Cold-Pressed Virgin Marula Oil

The Ordinary 100% Cold-Pressed Virgin Marula Oil is pure marula oil. Rich in fatty acids, it’s highly nourishing and has antioxidant properties. 

Why I love it:

Face oils are confusing, but my facialist Melanie Grant suggested I use marula oil whenever my face feels really tight or meh, because it will nourish and add glow without congesting pores.

I just take a few drops, warm it between my hands and push into my skin as a final step. 

5. Embryolisse Hydra-Serum.

Embryolisse Hydra-SerumEmbryolisse Hydra-Serum

What: Embryolisse Hydra-Serum 30ml

Embryolisse Hydra-Serum contains long and short chain hyaluronic acid molecules, plus glycerin to boost the skin’s water content.

Why I love it:

As we discussed previously, breakout-prone skin can still be dehydrated, which can lead to flaking, and a tight, crepey texture (not cute).

That’s why I love a lightweight water-based hydrating serum, such as this one from Embryolisse. It’s full of hyaluronic acid, so I like to pat it in after spritzing with my thermal spring water. 

6. Aspect Probiotic Mask.

What: Aspect Probiotic Mask

Aspect Probiotic Mask is a juicy skin treatment designed to nourish and repair the barrier, and calm irritation. 

Why I love it:

Treatment masks are a great way to give breakout-prone skin some nourishment, without overdoing it on heavy, occlusive ingredients.

This probiotic-rich mask from Aspect is so calming, and gives the skin this really nice plump, bouncy feeling.

I know the instructions say to use overnight, but because it’s rich in shea butter, I prefer it as an hour-long treatment on my oily skin. It's excellent before foundation, as well.

Shop Emily's Winter Skincare Routine For Breakout-Prone Skin:

    Join Now >
    Filled with the usual things we know you'll love, and surprises you might not expect, it's real rewards, really simple.